In Pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup.

Author:Halligan, John
Position::1999 championship
 
FREE EXCERPT

More than a century old, hockey's Stanley Cup is the most coveted sports trophy in North America.

The Stanley Cup has reigned unchallenged as the symbol of supremacy in the sport of ice hockey for more than a century. It had humble beginnings, but over the years has become steeped in legend and lore. The Stanley Cup, hockey's Holy Grail, is the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America, predating by seven years tennis' Davis Cup.

For fans across the North American continent, the very words "Stanley Cup" have a special ring to them. They trigger a tightening of the emotions, a quickening of the pulse, a sense of anticipation, and the promise of excitement.

Is there anything in sports to match the draining tension of a Stanley Cup sudden death overtime game? What is it to be: boundless joy or deepest gloom?; giddy, bubbly success or numbing, dreary failure? For hockey fans, there is nothing like it anywhere.

Team owners have spent small fortunes and lifetimes in pursuit of having their names engraved on one of the many silver bands that encircle the famed trophy. The Cup's history has become legendary, and new chapters are added every year.

The Stanley Cup has it all--tension, fear, pressure. For the winners, it is everything; for the losers, nothing. Since 1892, the Stanley Cup has provided one thing above all else--drama.

Back then, the fact that Canada's numerous amateur hockey teams were playing just for fun was brought to the attention of Lord Stanley of Preston, later the Earl of Derby, who was then Governor General of Canada, by Lord Kilcoursie, a hockey-player who was attached to His Excellency's staff. Lord Stanley quickly became a hockey enthusiast and, at a dinner on March 18, 1892, he expressed a wish to do something tangible for a great winter sport. He was returning to England upon the expiration of his term as Queen Victoria's representative in Canada, and he felt awarding a cup would serve to perpetuate his memory.

"I have for some time been thinking it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup, which could be held from year to year by the leading hockey club in Canada," said Lord Stanley in offering the Cup. "There does not appear to be any outward or visible sign of the championship at present, and considering the interest that hockey matches now elicit, and the importance of having the games played under generally recognized roles, I am willing to give a cup that shall be annually held by the winning club."

His Excellency's proposal was hailed in local circles, and he immediately arranged for an aide who was then in England to invest in a gold-lined silver bowl, which cost the equivalent of $48.67 at the time. He also appointed a pair of trustees to care for his trophy.

The custom of Cup trustees endures to the present, although the initial appointments seemed to work against Lord Stanley's wishes. Apparently, he hoped that the first presentation would be made to his favorite team in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. It didn't happen.

Although the Ottawa club was indeed a championship one, the trustees held that no one had been given "squatter's rights" to the first Cup. They ruled that a game between Ottawa and a team from Toronto would decide the 1892 winner and, furthermore, that the game would be played in Toronto. The Ottawa club refused and even resigned from the Ontario Hockey Association, but the trustees held firm. A year went by before the trustees announced the following: "Arrangements have been completed whereby the Lord Stanley Hockey Cup will now pass into the hands of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. Some trouble arose last year about the acceptance, and the Montreal AAA has had it in their possession ever since. The Montreal team will now officially take over."

This was the first in a remarkable series of ironies that has surrounded Stanley Cup competition. The initial recipient of the Cup really didn't compete for the trophy. A second irony was that Lord Stanley had returned to England permanently. So, the donor of the prize never saw a Stanley Cup game.

Despite the initial controversy, the Cup was an immediate hit, serving as the catalyst that more or less turned many amateur teams professional. There was no outright professional hockey at that time, although certain players "free-lanced" from club to club, selling their services to the highest bidder. As interest in hockey grew and crowds increased, club owners and managers naturally started to pull out all the stops in order to secure the services of more and more star players. The inducements to play grew each year, and, within two decades of its inception, the Stanley Cup was competed for strictly by professional teams.

With Lord Stanley gone, the Earl of Aberdeen succeeded him in Canada. Although the Earl and Lady Aberdeen occasionally attended hockey games, they were actually fans of curling, so Lord Stanley's donation stood steadfastly in its donor's honor, giving him considerably more historical note than his successors.

The first two decades of competition provided some of the most famous Cup incidents. In 1894, the Amateur Hockey Association standings had featured a four-way tie among Montreal...

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